Kathy and Ken Nishidate play a game of Azul, one of dozens of games available to play at their Raving Gamer Bistro in Langley City. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

New Lower Mainland bistro caters to board game fans and families

Local food and games at every table is the formula for the new business

At Langley’s Raving Gamer Bistro, you won’t just hear the sound of cutlery and glasses clinking. Diners will be rolling dice, laying down cards, and clacking pieces around boards while they eat.

The Raving Gamer is a restaurant that allows and encourages the playing of board games with your meal.

“People who come there, they put their devices away and they interact face-to-face,” said Ken Nishidate, co-owner and head chef of the Raving Gamer.

The board game boom of the past several years has seen a renewed interest in playing with friends and family around a table. Popular games developed in the past 20 years, such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic have renewed interest in board games, and dozens of new titles are now released each year.

Several pubs and cafés have sprung up in major cities around the world offering a board gaming experience, but the Raving Gamer takes it one step further by operating a full restaurant.

The games at the Raving Gamer Bistro range from simple, quick-playing and family friendly card-based games up to complex games of competition or cooperation that can take a couple of hours to finish.

A wide selection are available to play for anyone coming by for a meal or dessert, and more are on sale to take home.

Ken opened the restaurant in April with his business partner Daniel Szukalow.

Ken was the chef, Szukalow the board gaming fan.

“My partner is a fanatic, 900 games in his personal collection,” said Ken.

They had been playing games together and talking about the idea for about two years before they finally took the plunge, creating a restaurant and board game emporium on 203rd Street in Langley City.

Ken left his job managing food services for the RCMP at their Surrey Green Timbers headquarters, and the Raving Gamer Bistro opened on April 1.

The first day wound up being a bit of an April Fool’s Day event for the new restaurateurs.

“They [Langley City] blocked off access to our parking lot,” said Ken. Construction left them without any way to get customers in.

Things have improved since then, with the number of customers served in May doubling their first month.

Ken and his wife Kathy and their daughter Miyoko work at the restaurant, along with staff selected at least partly based on whether they are board game fans themselves.

“Our first question was, ‘What games have you played?’” Kathy said of the interview process.

In fact, during quiet moments staff will play games against one another or interested customers – it helps them explain games to new customers quickly so they can start playing.

For gaming, Kathy said they wanted to create somewhere bright and very kid- and family-friendly. She can engage younger kids with games or toys, while their parents enjoy a meal or a game of their own.

“We wanted to be a piece of the community, where families could come, where people on a first date could come,” said Ken.

They also wanted a menu that would support local farmers and food producers.

From the water buffalo and cheese, to the greens, to the beer and spirits, much of the food at the Raving Gamer comes from the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. Golden Ears Cheese Works, Field House Brewing and Langley’s own Roots and Wings Distillery are among the regional suppliers.

Both the Nishidate family and Szukalow live in Langley, so finding a local location and supporting other local businesses were key for them.

In addition, they knew that most unique restaurants and cafés – particularly board game-themed places – are located in major city centres. Placing one in fast-growing Langley gave people from Langley, Maple Ridge, Abbotsford, and Cloverdale a chance to visit without having to drive all the way to Vancouver.

The restaurant still hasn’t had one thing yet – a grand opening. The owners are hoping to plan for one in the near future, now that things are up and running.

The Raving Gamer Bistro is located at 5735 203rd Street, near Fraser Highway.

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